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Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 8 / 5 / 2009

Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle
Label: Drag City
Format: CD


Unassuming, but decent latest offering of Americana from ex-Smog man Bill Callahan

Now, back in the late 1990s, Smog were one of those strange, mysterious bands who stuck out records on fashionable labels, then got glowing reviews in the 'NME' and 'Select', but of whom even keen followers of the music scene never heard anything about. That was back before I had the internet, so it really was possible not to be in a position to know anything more about some bands than that they were American, that 'Select' thought the album worth 4 out of 5 and that John Peel had played their records on the radio. That’s all I knew about Smog when ‘Knock Knock’ (1999) was released, with its stand out track ‘Cold Blooded Old Times’, but it was enough to make me buy that album, and its follow-up ‘Dongs Of Sevotion’ (2000). I found out then that Smog wasn’t really a band at all, but a name used by singer-songwriter Bill Callahan. And then, for one reason or another, I parted company with Smog. In the meantime, so did Bill Callahan, who has opted to release albums under his own name since 2005 (who knows why?) Apparently, long-term Smog fans have been disappointed with his work since, on the grounds that he has abandoned the indie-aesthetic for more sophisticated production. On the strength of this album, its hard to see what the fuss about. There are strings all over this album, and they sound nice, but we are not venturing into Phil Spector territory or anything crazy like that. Callahan’s music still entails him mumbling over the top of simple guitar parts, and if that was your kind of thing in 2000, then it probably will be now. He’s an odd singer, very similar to Kurt Wagner of Lambchop, he is only the teensiest step away from just talking, but gets a surprising amount of melody out of the slimmest vocal range. This is especially the case on the album’s stand out track and centre point, ‘Too Many Birds’, where his tune is enriched by a lovely violin part. How anyone at all could be of the opinion that this would have been better smothered in electric guitar feedback baffles me, but the tastes of your average indie-obscurantist are generally a little weird. I have to be honest, though. I don’t see what the fuss is about concerning the lyrics. I mean, they’re okay and everything, but there aren’t any lines on the album I would be capable of repeating more than 5 minutes after I heard them. Far from it being the case that Callahan’s rough diamonds have been over polished, its generally the case that some interesting musical accompaniments give life to otherwise unremarkable compositions. But never mind, this is a decent album, and sometimes a very good album indeed. One gets the impression (perhaps a tad unfairly) that he could churn this stuff out with almost no effort at all, but there are moments here that successfully combine the elegant bleakness of Lambchop with the coiled tension of Arcade Fire.

Track Listing:-
1 Jim Cain
2 Eid Ma Clack Shaw
3 The Wind And The Dove
4 Rococo Zephyr
5 Too Many Birds
6 My Friend
7 All Thoughts Are Prey To Some Beast
8 Invocation Of Ratiocination
9 Faith / Void

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Interview (2009)
Bill Callahan - Interview
Bill Callahan recently abandoned his Smog moniker to start releasing albums under his own name. He talks to Chris O' Toole about the change of name and also his music

live reviews

Union Chapel, London, 20/8/2009
Bill Callahan - Union Chapel, London, 20/8/2009
Chris O'Toole finds former Smog star, Bill Callahan, despite a new found buoyancy, aloof and rigid with his audience at a show at the Union Chapel in London
Brixton Academy, London, 21/7/2009


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